75 years after death, Tulsa law officer honored

By Murray Evans
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) May 2011

A Native American beaten and shot to death outside a Tulsa night club was listed on national memorial wall dedicated to law enforcement officers – more than 75 years after he died while working as an investigator for an agency that became part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

William Louis Pappan died Dec. 4, 1935, at age 40. His death dominated headlines for a time, but recollections faded until an ATF historian came across his name a year ago. His son Stephen, 82, will take part in ceremonies this week in Washington and later this month in Oklahoma marking the death.

“I’m happy for his son,” said Barbara Osteika, who connected William Louis Pappan to the ATF while researching names on Oklahoma’s law enforcement memorial. “He’s lived to see his father get the proper recognition.”

Pappan joined the Treasury Department’s Alcohol Tax Unit in August 1935. At the time, Osteika said, Tulsa was rife with vice rings, with gangsters fighting for control of liquor distribution networks after Prohibition ended in December 1933.

Pappan went to the Sheridan Club with a private investigator, but both died in an ambush while trying to conduct a nighttime inspection, Osteika said. Pappan was shot five times in the back of the head, and his death certificate lists “gunshot and other wounds of head and body” as the cause of death.

Authorities arrested three men: one was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years, one was cleared and one had charges dismissed because someone already had been convicted, Osteika said.

“That demonstrates how tough it was to be law enforcement at the time,” she said. “Public sentiment was for criminals who were providing them alcohol.”

Later this month, Stephen Pappan will participate in a ceremony at the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Memorial, said that memorial’s chairman, retired Oklahoma City police officer Dennis Lippe.

“The bravery goes on today,” Lippe said. “The guy was willing to take a chance with his life to protect the people against the bad guys. That shouldn’t be forgotten.”

Osteika said William Louis Pappan was born on Christmas Day in 1894 on the Kaw Nation reservation in what later became Oklahoma. His great-great-grandfather, Chief Monchousia, once met with President James Monroe in the White House, a few years after signing an 1815 peace treaty with U.S. government officials in St. Louis.

A great-great-granduncle was Pawhuska, who once negotiated a treaty with Thomas Jefferson in Washington. A first cousin was Charles Curtis, vice president from 1929 to 1933, Osteika said.

“Looking at the family is like reading American history,” Osteika said.

Pappan attended Kendall College, now the University of Tulsa, and played three sports. The 1917 school yearbook noted Pappan “was probably the best big man” on the basketball team and was “tall and a clever passer” on the football team.

Pappan enlisted in the Oklahoma National Guard in the spring of 1917 and drove a mule-drawn ambulance in France, and later joined the Tulsa Police Department.

“He was a hero on many levels,” Osteika said. “Those ambulance drivers went into areas of bombardment under heavy fire to bring out the dead and wounded. Just his World War I record alone was heroic. He goes on to repeat that heroism as a Tulsa police officer and again as an (ATF) investigator.”

Lippe listed Pappan’s name on the state memorial because Pappan died in the line of duty. While doing research, Osteika came across the entry and contacted Lippe for more information. Last September in Las Vegas, the ATF posthumously awarded to Pappan the Gold Star Medal, one of the agency’s highest honors. Stephen Pappan accepted the award, along with a cousin and great niece of the fallen officer.

The ATF says Pappan was its first Kaw Nation investigator, the first American Indian ATF investigator killed in the line of duty and one of three Indian ATF investigators who served during Prohibition and the post-Prohibition era.